The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

January 10, 2013

Hospital addition to use existing facility

By Kim West

— Athens-Limestone Hospital has slated 25 beds for the initial phase of a Long-Term Acute Care hospital to be added this year within the existing hospital building on Market Street.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services characterize LTACs as hospitals that have an average Medicare inpatient length of stay of more than 25 days compared to the standard five-day stay for patients in traditional hospitals.

LTAC hospitals, also known as transitional care hospitals, provide extended medical care for patients who are chronically ill and require specialized care for complex conditions such as ventilator weaning, multi-organ failure, post-surgical complications and cardiovascular disorders.

These facilities differ from nursing homes because patients are treated to be released and receive highly specialized care for their conditions.

A Certificate of Need was issued Dec. 27, 2012, by the State Health Planning and Development agency to ALH to open a 40-bed LTAC facility for an estimated cost of more than $9.2 million.

The actual cost to renovate an existing wing in ALH is much lower, according to Betsy Harris, developmental director at Athens-Limestone Hospital.

Capital equipment purchases would cost $282,000 and renovation costs are expected to be $943,344 based on the initial filing documents for the CON. The bulk of the project outlay includes $7.3 million in operating expenses to run the LTAC facility for the first year.

An outside company will operate the LTAC hospital wing for ALH and lease the space for $650,000. ALH will provide physical therapy, dietary, linen, housekeeping, pharmacy, lab and X-ray services to the long-term patients.

“We have a wing of the hospital that can accommodate 34 patients with some capital improvements,” said Jan Lenz, chief nursing officer at Athens-Limestone Hospital. “These changes can be accomplished performing only minor renovations with no changes to the original building footprint.”

Harris said the majority of patients requiring intensive inpatient care would be from hospitals located within the North Alabama area because these patients currently are transferred to LTAC units in Nashville or Birmingham.

The Alabama Hospital Association lists at least six LTAC hospitals in the state, including Children’s of Alabama, Select Specialty Hospital and Noland Hospital in Jefferson County.

The LTAC facility will prompt the addition of services and specialties to support the care needed for its acutely ill patients and broaden medical options for Limestone County residents.

“I am very excited about this project and the growth it will bring to our hospital and community,” said Athens-Limestone CEO Kelli Powers.

In the past two years, ALH has undertaken several capital improvement projects, including revamping the Emergency Room, Baby Place and Waddell Center and installing a sprinkler system and a pair of nuclear cameras.

The hospital, which completed renovations to the cafeteria and gift shop last month, is going to upgrade the parking area, retool the restrooms and admission area and construct an outpatient facility in the coming months.